Jay Lennon, a professor and associate chair of the IU department of biology’s evolution, ecology and behavior section, was nominated for and received the Humboldt Research Award. The award provides recipients with $60,000 and six months to one year of residency at a research institution in Germany to explore a research project of their choice.
“I’m really grateful to have received the award and I would not be able to go otherwise or choose to do that, so to represent IU and have the opportunity to do that is pretty special,” Lennon said.
Lennon serves as a fellow for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Microbiology and the Ecological Society of America. He is also a member at large of the ESA Governing Board and chair of AAM’s five-year “Climate Change and Microbes” Task Force.
“I think we’re really lucky to have people like Jay,” IU biology professor and department chair Scott Michaels said. “Here (at IU), you get to actually meet real scientists and you can get to see how they think. You learn about what their discoveries are and you actually have all opportunities to participate in that research.”
Lennon was nominated by Jochen Blath, a mathematics professor at Goethe University Frankfurt. His nomination was supported by co-nominator Frank den Hollander, a probability professor at Leiden University. Lennon and Blath previously met in 2015 over email and in 2019, Blath invited Lennon to Berlin to be a key speaker for a workshop. Lennon said the two bonded over their shared interests and continued this bond during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When Jochen and I started working together during the pandemic, it was obvious that the barriers for him being a mathematician and me being a biologist were not impossible to overcome and actually created some synergy,” Lennon said.
Lennon and Blath will continue collaborating on a project exploring dormancy to develop a theory to understand diversity for the stability and functioning of ecosystems. Dormancy is a process of evolution through the tree of life where organisms that live in noisy and unpredictable environments go into a metabolic rest and sleep for extended periods of time, according to Lennon.
“We’re thinking about how (dormancy) can be applied not only to natural populations ranging from bacteria to plants to mammals, but it’s really important that we think about the process of aging, cancer and other chronic diseases and how we treat them,” Lennon said. “I think there’s some potential for us to do basic research that brings math and biology together to approach those questions in new ways.”
Lennon and his family plans to depart for Germany in July and return in December. Blath said in an email that their interdisciplinary research agenda has the potential to trigger further research in other fields and Lennon’s stay in Germany will create opportunities for future collaborations.
“His ability to leave his comfort zone and start to work seriously across disciplines including mathematics is really outstanding and I think this intellectual flexibility is one of the reasons for his success,” Blath said.